I had one of those dreams last night that I really didn’t want to end. It was about my father, or rather, it had my father in it in a prominent role. From what I can remember, it started with my dad and I in line at the commissary (for you non-military people, that’s where you buy groceries on a military base). Everything had already been rung up by the cashier when I remembered that I was holding a bunch of bananas. I told my dad that I would pay for the bananas separately as he was already writing a check. In my dream, I watch him write out the check very carefully, and I know why I am doing this. I always loved my father’s penmanship; it was very beautiful, carefully formed and readable. He hands the cashier the check, and I hand her one dollar for the bananas, and we leave the store. Then, on the drive home, we pass my mother who is driving the opposite way, and she rolls down the window and tells us that she is going to the diner with someone to have lunch. I can tell that my father is upset that she is going to the diner without him. We keep driving, and he tells me that he and my mother used to go to the diner together all of the time.
That’s about all that I can remember of the dream. Nothing particularly spectacular, other than the fact that I am spending time alone with my father, something we rarely did once I grew up. Now that he is gone, we do it a lot in my dreams. We go to a lot of places together in my dreams. We have lots of conversations, one-on-one conversations. I don’t suppose I need to mention that we didn’t do that a lot either once I got older. My father wasn’t big on conversations. He was a quiet man, at least at home, unless he was angry, and then he was loud, full of ire, sometimes uncontrollable ire. My temper is very much like my father’s at times—uncontrollable. It is not something of which I am proud. It is as if some switch goes off, and I can no longer contain the words tumbling out of my mouth, and I hate every second that this scathing venomous attack lasts. I have gotten much better at controlling this switch, but it still happens, but it takes a lot more to set it off.
But with my father, you just didn’t know how long his fuse was. I think that’s the way it is with people who hold so much inside for so long. You know that sooner or later it has to come out, but you just have no idea what is going to set it off. So spilling kool-ade might set it off, when in fact, it’s really something from three months ago that has been simmering. And then he would (to use a good old southern word) holler like crazy. So there would be hollering in the house, but it was almost always between my mom and dad.
When I was a child, I only remember two times that my father really got angry with me. I mean good and angry with me. My mother usually handled the discipline. But there were two times that my father stepped in. That was as a child. But as I got older, as a teenager, I remember my father saying something to me one time when I was acting like an ass over something that really caught me short. My dad was sitting in his usual chair in the dining room, and he looked up at me with so much pain in his eyes, and he said, “when was the last time you actually said hello to me when you walked into the house?” It stopped me dead in my tracks. In my self-absorbed 16-year-old self, I suppose it never even occurred to me that my father would want to hear hello from me, one simple word. Talk about making a person feel horrible, he hadn’t even said it in anger, just in resignation, a tired man who had realized where he stood in the hierarchy of his daughter’s priorities. God, if I could take back that moment.
But as to conversations, my father wasn’t big on sitting down and having heartfelt conversations. He would have brief conversations, usually consisting of two to three questions: “You doing okay?” “You like your job?” and maybe one or two more. If it went further, it was more of a 20 questions kind of probing on my part or on his. Not nosiness, just a comfortable questions and answer period. I think that we communicated like this mostly because he knew that I understood how taxing his communication was with my mother and I realized that if wanted me to know something, he would tell me, and that was somewhat of a relief for him. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to denigrate my mother. You just have to understand her modus operandi for communication. It can be relentless and includes many assumptions, and unfortunately, I sometimes fall into that pattern if I am not careful. So often when my dad and I were together once I was older, it was in companionable silence or with a few questions here and there so that once my mother got me on the phone, she couldn’t interrogate me as to what my father and I had spoken about.
So when I have these dreams in which I am spending time with my dad at the grocery store or in the car or just talking, I relish them, cherish them because I know, deep in my heart that they are my father’s gift to me. That somehow, somewhere, my father knows that there are days on which I would give anything, everything to be able to pick up the telephone and hear his voice, but that will never ever happen again. And so I must settle for what dreams may come.